One of my Junior High School highlight's was playing the drums in an airband with a few friends to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cindi Lauper. Who would have known that experience would have made such an impact so many years later. Of course, I have always had a soft spot for female singers. Sarah McLachlin was certainly one of my favourites. Anyhow, during the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup we started with our first game against Germany, who were the defending champs playing in Columbus, Ohio. The stadium was gorgeous! The game got off to a great start, which saw us take the lead 4-minutes into the game. I have said this many times now, but I strongly believe that early goal awoke the "sleeping giant." We ended up losing 4-1 against the Germans which set us up for our second game in the tournament against Argentina.
The Canadian Women's National Team had never won a game at the World Cup and leading into this game against Argentina we needed a result if we were going to meet our pre-tournament goals. The preparation for this event started in 2000, when Even Pellerud took over the team and entire Women's program. As a program, we were just coming off of a fabulous result at the 2002 FIFAWomen's U19 Youth World Championships hosted by Canada in which we finished second. Several players from this successful youth team were also playing in the Women's World Cup. Erin McLeoad. Christine Sinclair. Brittany Timko. Kara Lang.
Interestingly, we made a move to select another goalkeeper for the second game in the tournament and started Taryn Swiatek. Taryn is more mouse than monster, at least that is what we assumed going into the event, which would of course be severely altered once we advanced beyond the first round. Back to the game against Argentina. As with most international games, the time on the field is limited to 22-minutes. So, we had devised a plan to best utlilize this pre-determined amount of time to prepare Taryn for the match. We made our way to the goal and proceeded with the goalkeepers warm-up in the penalty area when I noticed "Time after Time" by Cindi Lauper was playing. It was hilarious. There I was warming up Taryn for what would likely be her most important game to date while under a tremendous amount of pressure. As I was singing the words of the song quietly to myself with a smile on my face and smashing balls at her she asked "what's up?" So, we quickly game together and I explained how in Grade 8 we had performed an air band to some of this music and that this particular song was one on my all-time favorites. This was an interesting moment, as we absorbed the humour amidst the chaos. With all this pressure to perform, we were able to take a moment to have a laugh. The game suddenly became less of a distraction, all be it momentarily while we savoured the opportunity to enjoy the moment.
The games ended with a victory for Canada, followed by a much needed victory in the next game over Japan to advance us to the knock-out stage of the World Cup.
The next game against China in the 1/4 finals was to be played in Portland, Oregon. It was satisfying to see how many Canadians had made the road trip south to support the team. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric. There were Chinese Dragons running up and down the stairs in the crowd when we scored the go-ahead goal in the 7th minute. It was a phenomenal moment, a ball cleared away from the opponents goal followed by brilliant ball played in behind the backline for Charmaine Hooper to run onto and head into to goal. 1-0 Canada. WOW! The rest of the game saw us defend and counter. Swiatek made save after save after save after save. She completely dominated the box in the air. She was invincible one versus one. It was one of the best games played by a Canadian Team GK to date. The pressure absorbed by our team defensively trying to slow down the Chinese attack was remarkable. The feeling when the final whistle blew to advance to the 1/2 final was AWESOME!
For the 1/2 final we were up against Sweden. It was an amazing experience walking into the stadium while Germany and USA were playing in the game before us. As we unloaded from the team bus inside the stadium we could hear the crowd enjoying the game and made our way to the team dressing room. Most of the players and staff made their way to the concourse to check-in on the game, while a few of us remained behind to unpack and prepare. The sound of the game coming through the stadium was brilliant, we had to go see some of the action. In the end, the Germans were victorious and advanced to the final leaving the US to play in the consolation game for third or fourh place. Our game against Sweden started remarkably well, as we went ahead on a strike from a free-kick by Kara Lang in the 22-minute. I remember watching the game clock count down minute by minute thinking this is too good to be true. In the 78th and 80th minute sadly we were scored on and lost the game 2-1. It was an unfortunate result, however, we had accomplished a tremendous amount support and the success was recognized by many.
The consolation game was played at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles in front of 24,000 screaming Americans. "USA! USA! USA!" For for the first portion of the match this was all we could hear and then it stopped. The game produced a favourable result for the US, however, we all received medals and the tournament was complete. We had finished fourth in the world. We had a remarkable journey with memories that will last a lifetime. Each and everytime I listed to Cindi Lauper's "Time After Time" I think of the experience warming up Taryn in Columbus, Ohio and what it lead to.